Review: Friendly Mr. Scruff at the Belmont
British legend on the decks, Mr. Scruff hasn’t been to Montreal for a while. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the last time he was here (2010 with Bonobo at Jazz Fest???). However, word must have been out that the beloved cult DJ would be coming to the Belmont because a crowd of pretty girls with asymmetrical hair and chin stroking dudes filled the space. The chilled out atmosphere got major props from a few Brits who were more than happy to see one of their favorite DJs in a more intimate venue than they were used to. They planted their asses up front, closed their eyes, and swooned.
For those not in the know, Mr. Scruff, better known as Andy Carthy, is known for epically long sets (think four or five hours without trading off the spot). Tuesday’s set outlasted me, not that this was much of a challenge as I had to split before midnight. He started with some easy, big jam grooves and then went for more of a jungle-funk and on into trip-hop. Projected on the wall behind were animations of his cartoon figures: blobs playing sax and drums, pounding stereos, flying notes. Mr. Scruff can really punch a crowd where it counts as evidenced by how much he grooves to his own music while picking and choosing the what-next. There’s no style he won’t touch: jazz, motownesque horns, funk, hip hop, ska, reggae, disco, house, even soundtracks. All in all, he builds and then releases with class. Not a missed opportunity to up the ante in the batch.
Carthy does more than DJ; he’s a producer too. Most recently, the Brit put out a record of solid tracks called Friendly Bacteria via Ninja Tune. The album has some hot collaborations on it with fellow Mancusians soul vocalist Denis Jones, trumpeter Matthew Halsall, and electro-programmer Phil France. He also snagged, soul vocalist Vanessa Freeman and American musician Robert Owens. The album moves away from the heavily layered orchestrations and instead is a more stripped down sound, often taking a particular percussive track and then tooling around with it. Tracks include vocals with a smooth beat background and uncomplicated synths (Render Me, Thought to the Meaning, or clubbier Come Find Me). Songs like opener Stereo Breath are more playful, riffing with dance hall moods. Others have a scientific, angular sound (Deliverance, Where Am I?). I prefer when he moves away from the collaborations with his own instrumental and sampled tracks as this is when he seems to leap into creative journeys. My personal favorite might be We Are Coming? with its jungle sonic playfulness that starts with a tough exterior before transforming into a funky groove. It’s either that or Feel Free with its downtempo jazz melancholy and tug of war that keeps the song an intriguing and surprising.
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